Helios Caesura

[Type; 2008]

Styles: halcyon-pastoral-somnolent-ambient, easy listening
Others: Goldmund, The Album Leaf, (the quieter side of) Explosions in the Sky, Eluvium

The term ‘easy listening’ seems to be one of the greatest anathemas within music. It immediately conjures bitter images of Pure Moods commercials, John Tesh, Kenny G, and Enya. Interestingly, the line between ‘ambient’ music and ‘easy listening’ is often blurred, toed delicately by artists unwilling to accept such a stigmatized, abhorrent title as a descriptor for their work. It is pleasant, unobtrusive, and, true to its name, doesn’t ask much of the listener other than a muddled mind to soothe. As Helios, Boston-based Keith Kenniff is one such artist who has released ambient music that is, in fact, easy to listen to, and his latest effort, Caesura, is no exception.

The typical ingredients that go into a Helios record have remained the same throughout Kenniff's several releases. Glistening guitars, subtle bass lines, loping organic beats, thick synth pads, and delicate piano fragments all combine effortlessly in these 10 songs. Each begins in a similar fashion, with either a tender guitar line or prominent beat leading the quiet stroll, followed soon after by one of the aforementioned instruments. Kenniff has mastered his style, but he seems to have grown too comfortable. A few of the tracks meander and fail to really move the listener anywhere other than into a soporific state.

Because of its constant progression, “Come With Nothings” is one of the most engrossing tracks here, with simple beatific guitar lines, a static beat, and breezy synths. Halfway through, though, an unexpected guitar motif is introduced, taking the song in a completely new and fascinating direction. Moments like these highlight just how mundane some of the other tracks are; "Glimpse" and "A Mountain of Ice," for example, contain some beautiful moments, but wander around slowly and aimlessly for too long.

The cover of Caesura depicts a barren, frozen tundra as seen through a window. Outside, a cabin exhales welcoming smoke from a chimney. As it happens, the image is an apt metaphor for the music. For the most part, we’re kept warm with lambent guitar lines floating over a bed of spacious synths, while tension is hinted at but rarely felt explicitly. The cold is out there, but Kenniff chooses to stay in his own cozy shelter for most of the album. It's a safe and enjoyable ride, but too few of these tracks reward attentive listening.

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